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Introduction to One-on-One meetings for managers

Time and again, leadership experts and management guru suggest that one-on-one meetings (also called 1-on-1, 1:1) of the manager with his/her direct reports are the most important thing managers can do. It's an effective way to build stronger teams.

"1:1s are your must-do meetings, your single best opportunity to listen, really listen, to the people on your team to make sure you understand their perspective on what's working and what's not working."
— Kim Scott, author of "Radical Candor"
Introduction to One-on-One meetings for managers
In this article, we'll dive into details on what one-on-one meetings are and the best practices on how to conduct them effectively.

What are One-on-One meetings

One-on-one meeting is a regular (every 1-4 weeks) meeting between a manager and a team member, with team members' agenda.

One-on-ones help managers connect and build trust with their direct reports, understand how they are feeling about their work, team, organization, their future career, and growth potentials. This manager-employee meeting is an integral part of the company's communication, a safe space to connect the team members, uncover potential issues, and resolve blockers.

It's crucial to emphasize that 1-on-1 meetings should be primarily focused on the employee's agenda, not the manager's. When done right, during 1-on-1 sessions, employees can ask in-depth probing questions, share feedback, receive coaching, and answer tough questions.

In summary, the goals of the one-on-one meetings are:

  • Build trust / establish a personal rapport;
  • Align on goals and expectations;
  • Give feedback, ask for feedback;
  • Coach, help growth, plan out and support career growth;
  • Identify and solve problems / issues / blockers;

The benefits of One-on-One meetings

One-on-one meetings bring many benefits both for the employees, managers, and the company in general.

One of the most important ones is that they help build better employee-manager relationships. As a result, team productivity increases, since the team members can resolve blockers and issues faster, long before they become irreversible or cause significant problems.

One-on-one meetings also help boost employee engagement, since team members feel heard and valued, they have safe space to express concerns, ask questions, discuss their career opportunities, receive, and give feedback.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of well organized one-on-one employee meetings. Don't neglect this powerful tool in the manager's toolbox.

One-on-One meeting frequency and time

Managers often ask how often they should meet with their employees.

The most common cadence for one-on-one meetings is once per week or once every 2 weeks. Schedule a repeating calendar event and stick to it as much as possible. Re-schedule or cancel them only if you absolutely need to.

The frequency of your meetings, of course, might depend on:

  • How senior is the team member (their task-relevant maturity)? Often, more junior team members need more frequent and more prolonged meetings.
  • How often do you interact with this person? If you work closely with someone every day, you might need to have one-on-one only once per month.
  • How well do you know the person? Usually, you'll spend more time with the newcomers to get to know each other, less with veterans in your team.
  • Your team size. The more direct reports you have, the less time you can dedicate to one-on-ones.

The ideal duration for 1-on-1 meetings is 30-40 minutes. Longer sessions might feel like a burden and tend to become less productive.

The meeting duration will also depend on how often you meet with the person:
  • For weekly / bi-weekly meetings - 30 mins is enough;
  • For monthly (or less frequent) - better schedule 1 hour;

One-on-One best practices

Here are some of the best practices for productive 1-on-1 meetings.

Collaborate on agenda

You'd rarely have a productive meeting if none of the participants has a topic to discuss.

That's why it's essential to collaborate and prepare at least some agenda items before the meeting. Ask another participant a few hours/days before the meeting to think about what does (s)he wants to talk about.

Some of the common one-on-one meeting topics might be:

  • Get to know each other better;
  • To discuss issues or blockers;
  • To share feedback on performance/communication;
  • Share feedback on the team/organization;
  • Discuss career direction/growth opportunities;
Having a shared document, like a 1-on-1 meeting notes document that is linked to the calendar event, is very helpful to collaborate easily on the 1-on-1 agenda. Check out the list of 100 most popular one-on-one meeting questions to help you get started.

Another practice you can have is to start building the next meeting agenda at the end of the current meeting. Luckily, Plai will already automatically create the draft for the next meeting for you (based on your calendar event) so that you don't need to manage it manually.

Come prepared

You might have a busy schedule and a lot of stuff on your plate. But it doesn't permit you to come unprepared for your one-on-one meetings. Review your previous meeting notes and complete the action items assigned to you (if you had any).

Review the project progress or the objectives the other person is working on. So that you don't need to ask a trivial question, "How's the progress on X?" It would allow you to spend less time on the progress check-in and more on the important topics.

To help you get started, we prepared a list of temples and one-on-one questions you can begin with.

Listen actively

Remember that your primary job as a manager is to listen and help. A good one-on-one meeting is when you talk less and listen carefully most of the time. one-on-ones are not like most of the other meetings. Spend some time to get into the right mindset, connect with the help of the icebreakers and personal questions in the beginning so that you both can build trust and open up.

Show that you care by listening actively. Make your one-on-ones insightful by focusing on your colleague and genuinely try to understand their side and learn something new from them.

Some simple tips to help you listen actively:

  • Avoid staring into your phone or computer most of the time.
  • Don't try to fill the silent gaps immediately.
  • Don't forget to follow-up on the critical points (take notes!).

Take notes

When you write notes, you retain information much better, so you're able to make better decisions.

Having notes will give you a solid start before the next conversation, you won't forget to follow-up on essential points. It will allow you to review your previous conversation with that person and understand how the person progressed over time.

Notes also help you capture the action steps you agree on during the meeting, and keep track of them later.

Writing and sharing notes with your participants shows the importance of the meetings, displays a public commitment. It fosters accountability for both sides.

Some people prefer writing notes by hand, others — in the online editor or Google Docs. Some might even prefer to record video follow-ups (for example, with StoryXpress). Plai 1:1 meetings feature can help you write and track 1:1 meeting agenda and notes.

Keep conversation casual

Don't forget that this guide (and any other) is just a recommendation. Don't stick strictly to any template or any list of questions. Each team and situation is unique, never forget that.

Keep the conversation natural, as it flows. When you focus on your team member, you'll understand what the person is concerned about. That way, you'll know how to talk to her/him, what to discuss now, and what later.

Don't turn your one-on-ones into yet another to-do item that you'll chase through in 30 mins and check off from your to-do list. Treat it as a valuable investment of your time as a manager (and one of the most important ones).

Pro tip: Casual 1-on-1s in a conversational tone yield the best results.

    Typical One-on-One meeting agenda

    Each one-on-one is unique, and you should not stick to any predefined template. Build your agenda based on your goals and your team priorities. That's why we made agenda and meeting notes very flexible for you to start with curated templates, but customizable however you need them.

    Here's a common one-on-one meeting agenda that you can start with.

    Warm-up

    Get started with casual personal questions. It would help you understand the mood of your colleague and would give you a hint about what to focus on during the meeting.

    Suggested questions:

    • How's life? What did you do this weekend?
    • How are your things going outside of work?
    • What are you reading right now?

    Teamwork

    Ask questions about teamwork, the relationship with other team members, how the person feels about the team/company, etc.

    Suggested questions:

    • What's your top priority this week?
    • What's holding you back at work right now?
    • What's going well? What are your recent wins?
    • If we could improve in any way as a team, how could we do it?

    Career growth

    Understand if your team/organization helps the person grow, what the person's preference, what skills the person needs to, or wants to improve.

    Suggested questions:

    • What skills would you like to develop right now? How can I help you with it?
    • Do you feel like you're growing in your role? What makes you say that?
    • Which areas would you like more or less direction/support from me on your work?

    Talking points / Other

    Build your plan about the topics that are relevant to your team. Plus, always as for feedback about you/team/your one-on-one meetings.

    Suggested questions:

    • Last time you mentioned that you were frustrated about the situation X and wanted to try Y as a solution. How did it go? Did anything change?
    • What are your impressions of our one-on-ones? How could we make them more useful for you?
    • Any feedback or thoughts you'd like to share?

    ⭐️ Pro tip: don't forget to take notes and follow-up with the important topics and next action steps.

    To learn more, check out a list of one-on-one meeting agenda templates that will help you conduct productive and meaningful meetings.

      Summary

      One-on-one meetings are one of the most important things to do as a manager. When done right, they increase your team engagement and performance, help you build more trustful relationships with your team, uncover and solve potential issues long before they become a big deal.

      Don't overlook the importance of conducting regular insightful one-on-one meetings. Your team would thank you!

      Need help with getting started and managing your one-on-one meeting agenda and notes? Check out a free tool Plai.
      30 May / 2020
      Author: Andriy Bas
      CO-FOUNDER & CEO PLAI

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